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5th and Market.
Among the finest office buildings of its day, the Backesto Building opened in the heart of New Town’s original business district. Klauber and Levi, a pioneer grocer and general-merchandise firm, occupied the ground floor from 1879 to 1886. In 1892 San Diego Hardware opened at the site, relocating in 1923 to a few blocks north on 5th Avenue. The structure, one of the first in the Gaslamp to be restored, stands within a block filled with century-old buildings.
6th and Market.
The Independent Order of Odd Fellows.
A joint effort of the Masonic and Odd Fellows lodges, this Classical Revival style building required nearly a decade to complete due to a lack of money and materials. A parade kicked off the long-awaited laying of the cornerstone, into which was placed a casket containing valuable coins, historical documents, and a stone from Solomon’s Temple. The lodges shared the building’s second floor until the Masons moved to a new hall in 1910.
939 5th Avenue.
Until 1928, this three-story, brick facade building housed the Manhattan Restaurant and Manhattan Hotel, the latter known as a house of ill-repute. The basement served as a speakeasy during prohibition. In the 1930 the entire structure was remodeled in the art deco style, with bas relief panels outside and white mahogany and walnut inside.
THE KEATING BUILDING-1890
5th and F Street.
Mrs. Keating had this Romanesque style building constructed as a tribute to her late husband, George. Today, the top cornice still bears his name. San Diego’s oldest steam-powered elevator, installed in 1890, is still in use. The structure was originally heralded as one of the most prestigious office buildings in the city. Legend has it that the gray granite used on the first two floors had been used as balast on European sailing ships; however, an 1892 article in the San Diego Union refuted the claim.
NESMITH – GREELEY BUILDING-1888
825 5th Avenue.
Except for the fire escapes, the face of this building retains its original appearance. Its Romanesque Revival style is revealed in its brick coursing and circular lower elements capped by simulated stone towers. The building was named for Thomas Nesmith and Major General Adolphus Washington Greeley. Nesmith was president of the Bank of San Diego and the Citizen’s Committee of 40 established in 1870
OLD CITY HALL-1874
5th and G Street.
This Florentine Italianate building features ornate 16-foot ceilings, 12- foot windows framed with brick arches, antique columns, and a wrought-iron cage elevator. Two floors were added in 1887 to accomodate the San Diego Public Library. In 1900, the entire city government moved in, with the Police Department on the first floor and the Council Chambers on the fourth. In 1955 stucco was applied to “modernize’ the exterior. Years later the building was restored to its original beauty.
SAMUEL I FOX BUILDING-1929
Broadway and 6th Avenue.
Entrepreneur Samuel Fox built this four story, $500,000 structure to accomodate his Lion Clothing Company, the sole tenant of the building until 1984. Showcasing 16-foot ceilings, antique oak wood paneling, walnut window frames, cast-iron decorative grills, heraldic lions in full relief, sculptured terra cotta spandrels, and an overhanging tile roof, the building was recognized as an artistic masterpiece as well as a merchandising success.
SUN CAFE – C. 1922
421 Market Street.
This single story building was originally a shooting gallery. An entrepreneurial Japanese family named Obayashi began serving soup to the customers. Later the soup became more popular than the shooting gallery, and in 1913 the Obayashis took over the shooting gallery and eventually turned it into the Sun Cafe. It was maintained and operated by the Obayashi family until the Japanese Internment in 1942. A family friend operated the business until the Obayashis could return. They then maintained the Sun Cafe until the 1960s. The movie “Almost Famous” was filmed in front of the Sun Cafe. Now it is known as Funky Garcia’s at Sun Cafe, with it’s iconic sign remaining intact.
GRAND PACIFIC HOTEL-1887
5th and J Street..
The only Victorian hotel of this era still located on its original site, this three-story structure went from a hotel to a brothel (like so many buildings in the area), seguing into a home for retired “ladies,” a home for their children (Helping Hand Home) and eventually evolving into the Children’s Hospital San Diego, which occupied the building until 1920.
The structure’s brick-veneered facing, galvanized iron cornices, iron columns, and plate-glass fronts make it one of the most significant Victorian-style building in the district.
HORTON GRAND HOTEL-1886
4th and Island Avenues.
San Diego’s oldest Victorian hotel, it was originally called the Grand Hotel and later renamed the Hotel Horton in 1907. In 1981, the Horton and the nearby Kahle Saddlery hotels were torn apart and completely restored. The two reopened side by side as one, in time for their 100th birthday in 1986. (The Horton is on the left as you face the entrance.)
The facelift restored the oak starcase of the Horton, the stained-glass windows of the Saddlery, and the bay windows of both.